Thursday, July 20, 2006

The State of the Philippines’ Environment

Prefatory Statement

All civilizations have depended on an adequate supply of food, water, and energy. The ancient Greeks considered that the basic elements for life were land that produced food, water that purified and gave health, and fire that provided power for human activities. In their view without food, water and an energy source, there was no viability, either personal or collective in their polis.[1]

Tragically, in the Philippines today, as official reports have showed, the country’s natural resources which sustains and gives life is in serious danger. The clarion calls have to be resounded again and again, no matter what the political costs are.

Since Gloria Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001, and after five (5) State of the Nation addresses before Congress, there has been no environmental program or policy of national significance included in her state of the nation addresses.

The cause of protecting and conserving the country’s natural resources and the environment for the greater interest of the Filipinos has been sacrificed for a policy of “extraction and exploitation” for short term economic gains which are not sustainable and potentially damaging in the long term.

The constitutional right to a balanced ecology

The immediate response to the demands of the “necessities of protecting vital public interests” gives vitality to the statement on ecology embodied in the Declaration of Principles and State Policies of the 1987 Constitution, Article II, section 16 which provides, “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” As a constitutionally guaranteed right of every person, it carries with it the correlative duty of non- impairment. This is but in consonance with the declared policy of the State to protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them. It is to be borne in mind that that the Philippines is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Alma Ata Conference Declaration of 1978 which recognizes health as a fundamental human right.[2]

In the case of Minors of the Philippines vs, DENR,,[3] the High Court ruled that, “while the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be founded under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies and not under the Bill of Rights, it does not follow that it is less important than any of the civil and political rights enumerated in the latter. Such right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation, aptly and fittingly stressed by the petitioners-the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and constitutions.”

The economic costs and damages

The Philippines is losing P111 billion annually from environment destruction, lost income/opportunity in the fisheries sector and health expenses related to air pollution, according to a World Bank Report.[4]

The World Bank’s Philippine Environment Monitor Report for 2004 stated that,

The costs of environmental degradation are high, where they are quantifiable. For example, mismanagement of fisheries resources is estimated to cost PhP 23 billion (US$ 420 million) annually in lost revenues. The annual economic losses caused by water pollution are estimated at PhP 67 billion (US$ 1.3 billion) and the increased health costs of exposure to air pollution (particulate matter) in four urban centers alone are estimated to be over PhP 21 billion (US$ 400 million). Abandoned mining areas and mercury pollution in water bodies that surround mines remain problematic and unquantified even as the Government encourages new,environmentally-sensitive mining investment.[5]

The country’s deforestation has been described as one of the “ world's most rapid and massive deforestation.”[6]

The World Bank values direct damage caused by disasters between 1970 and 2000 at PhP 15 billion per year.

Besides the environmental and economic impacts, deforestation also means that the dipterocarp forests that have been the world’s primary source of “Philippines mahogany” may eventually disappear. In 1988, costs associated with forest loss were estimated to exceed 800 million pesos. Deforestation also directly and indirectly impacted fishery resources and has been a major factor in the depreciation of upland soils. Losses to these two resources alone were estimated to be approximately 1 billion pesos for 1996 to 1997 only.[7]

Based on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) list, some 38 areas nationwide are prone to frequent landslides and flooding, most of which are located in the heavily denuded forest areas of the country. This situation has caused 80 million Filipinos to suffer from a grossly inadequate and unstable life support system, particularly the 24 million who dwell in the uplands and depend on the forests for food and livelihood.[8]

The Philippines is one of the world’s 18 “mega-diversity countries”, which together account for between 60-70% of global biodiversity. It has been identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “biodiversity hotspot”, a country where biodiversity is extremely threatened by deforestation, conversion, fragmentation of natural habitats, unregulated trade, and overall low environment quality.

Illegal logging has not ceased, despite the logging-ban imposed in many part of the country. According to a report of Transparency International dated 23 October 1998, during the last 20 years the number of forest concessionaires has numbered 480. And during this period, it is estimated that these concessionaires have amassed US $ 42 Billion in profits, due to very low concession fees and taxes. This system has enriched only a few families while the livelihood of millions of others have been adversely affected by the loss of the forest cover and the displacement of local communities.

According to the World Bank’s Philippine Environment Monitor for 2004, “Coastal resources, especially coral reefs (over 90%) are at high risk, mangroves, and sea-grasses face threats from coastal zone development, expanding aquaculture, and destructive fishing. Mismanagement of fisheries resources is estimated to cost PhP 23 billion, annually in lost revenues. The annual economic losses caused by water pollution are estimated at PhP 67 billion. Abandoned mining areas and mercury pollution in water bodies that surround mines remain problematic and unquantified.”

A USAID (US Agency for International Development) report estimates that the Philippines loses around U$420 million annually in potential revenues due to mismanagement of fisheries resources. Over-fishing alone is estimated to lead to annual losses of about US$ 125 million.

The country's air is also bad.Increased health costs of exposure to air pollution in four urban centers alone are estimated to be over PhP 21 billion. A perception survey on air pollution, conducted in 2001 by the Philippine Information Agency, revealed that more than 72% of Manila’s residents were alarmed by air pollution and 73% said they were not aware that the government was taking any actions to control it.

This Administration’s open and blatant policy on resource extraction is making the situation worst. This can best be seen from its hard sell reliance on “mining” as the tool for economic progress.

According to Haribon Foundation:

A total of 16 Important Bird Areas are threatened by 37 MPSAs (Mineral Production Sharing Agreements). Those with mining claims in these areas include: Zambales Chromite Mineral Reservation, Samar Bauxite Mineral Reservation, Surigao Mineral Reservation and Zamboanga Mineral Reservation.
There are also 35 national conservation priority areas (out of 170) threatened by mining tenements and 32 protected areas that overlap with existing mining tenements. If the mining industry is revitalized an estimated minimum 37% of the remaining forests (as of 1988) will potentially be decimated by mining.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in a statement of concern in 1998 wrote and warned us that:

The adverse social impact on the affected communities, specially on our indigenous brothers and sisters far outweighs the gains promised by large scale mining operations. Our people living in the mountains and along the affected shorelines can no longer avail of the bounty of nature. Rice fields are devastated and bays rich with sea food become health hazards.[9]

The grim scenario ahead

We live in the period of the greatest extinction of plant and animal species since the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. The history of life on earth has included at least five periods during which huge numbers of species vanished forever, primarily due to changes in climate and sea level. Some scientists worry that a sixth extinction has begun because of humanity's gross misuse of the earth's resources.

First extinction: End-Ordovician. About 440 million years ago. This was the second-most severe extinction yet discovered. About 85% of all species were wiped out.

Second extinction: Late Devonian. About 365 million years ago. Marine species were particularly hard-hit in an extinction that took place in two waves a million years apart.

Third extinction: End-Permian. About 251 million years ago. With an estimated extinction of 96% of all species, this is the largest mass extinction of all. It dealt a near fatal blow to mammal-like reptiles that had ruled life on land for 80 million years. The dinosaurs stepped into their place as the dominant species.

Fourth extinction: End-Triassic. About 205 million years ago. An estimated 76% of all species, mostly marine creatures, vanished.

Fifth extinction: End-Cretaceous. About 65 million years ago. This is the most famous mass extinction of all because it signaled the end of the dinosaurs, which had dominated the land for 140 million years. Probably between 75% and 80% of all species disappeared during this time.

Sixth extinction? Since 1950 some 600,000 species have disappeared and nearly 40,000 more currently are threatened. The pace of extinction may increase under the weight of human consumption and pollution of natural resources and, with global warming and resulting rising sea levels, take on alarming proportions.

Can we assume that life on earth as we know it can continue no matter what the environmental conditions? Or are we setting the stage for an eventual sixth extinction—our own?

What should be done

Governance and Regulation are the keys to saving the environment. There should be a paradigm shift on how we view the protection and conservation of the environment. Resource extraction as the basis for economic progress should not be the end-all of any economic system.

The DENR’s problem however in the regulation and implementation of environmental laws can be traced to its divided and conflicting mandate of “resource development” and “conservation.” Through the years, DENR has favored resource extraction and sale at the expense of conservation and regulation. This is established by the conflicting policies of the agency on forestry, coastal resource management and urban tree conservation.

Further, the divided and conflicting mandate of the DENR on resource development and conservation requires different skills, training and fundamental differences in philosophies, thus, it often results in lack of focus in programs and policies.

What is needed therefore, is the creation of a separate agency, such as the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be in charge of conservation and regulation of natural resources. During the tenth (10th ) and eleventh (11th ) congress, there was a move for the creation of a National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA). This should be continued.

The enactment of legislation that would provide for a National Land Use Policy is long overdue. Conflicting policies on land use and outdated laws on land classification has led to over lapping jurisdictions and frameworks for development. This has further resulted in the depletion of our forest reserves, and the over-exploitation and excessive withdrawal of our natural resources.

There should also be a deliberate review of the provisions of the Mining Act with the end in view of enacting legislation that, is truly people base.

Other possible legislation that needs to be looked at are:

- The strengthening of the Local Government Units capacity to ensure the protection and conservation of the country’s natural resources;
- The creation of special courts to try and prosecute violations of environmental laws;
- The management of the country’s electronic wastes;
- The development and use of alternative sources of energy;
- The enactment of a comprehensive conservation and protection law on the country’s mangroves; and
- The enactment of legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While GMOs offers both opportunity and risk, there is a need for legislation to ensure that the public are well informed of the risks in consuming GMOs. This can be done by requiring that such products be properly labeled and marked accordingly.

[1] Oswaldo De Rivero, “The Myth of Development,” page 160, 2001 ed.
[2] Laguna Lake Development Authority vs. Court of Appeals, GR no.110120, March 16, 1994
[3] GR no.101083, July 30, 1993 (224 SCRA 792)
[4] Philippine Star, July 19, 2005
[5] World Bank “Philippine Environment Monitor” 2004
[6] Haribon Statement, 4 February 2005
[7] Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: Phillipines - Ernesto S. Guiang
[8] Haribon Statement, 4 February 2005
[9] CBCP, “Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of 1995,” 28 February 1998, signed by Archbishop Oscar Cruz (President, CBCP)

Monday, July 17, 2006

My Place in the Mountains

I practice a profession in an environment where talking, making noises and raising voices is an everyday fact. This explains perhaps the reason why for the past several weeks, I have been yearning to visit the mountains and just allow myself to be just surrounded by its tranquility.

I have visited Banawe twice, and Mount Data in the Mountain Province once. In both of my visits, the peaceful surrounding and the cold mountain weather, with its morning mist just mesmerized me. The people there also made me wonder several times, whether the life I am living with its complexity, and all is really relevant. These people go through life, as I see it without so much rancor and absurdities.

I first visited Banawe in August 2003, and the second time in March 2004 with my family in tow. In Banawe, amidst the beauty of the terraces you become one with nature. You cannot but admire the work done by the Ifugaos in transforming the mountains into a natural work of man which has withstood the test of the times.

While Banawe is resplendent with the its simplicity and rural life in the mountains, Mount Data, a national park in the Mountain Province made me feel closer to heaven. It was in the mountains of Data, where I also experienced the shattering noise of a quiet environment or what I referred to as the “nakakabinging katahimikan.”

In the mountains,I take walks inside the forest and find my spot. I remain there for some time and just feel the positive energy that the forest gives.

As the city moved in its sweet and bitter anarchy, the forest in its placid quietness and gentleness beckons me with whisper of the winds to find peace.

In the forest of Banawe and Mt. Data, the trees stand in their majesty. They have remained strong and sturdy for centuries. While us mortals, wither away in age, they stand proud with the coming of the years.

It is indeed comforting that amidst all the uncertainties in the jungle of the city, there remains a spot in the anarchy of the world where we can find solace and peace.

I found that spot in my place in the mountains.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sedition in the time of Glory

In the Philippines, where people's rights are "perceived" to be protected by the constitution, there still exists certain archaic provisions of the law which hinders its effective exercise. The crime of sedition is one such offense. It is inconsistent with generally accepted principles of the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is protected under Article III, section 3 of our 1987 Constitution which provides as follows, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

On the other hand, sedition is a crime “committed by persons who rise publicly and tumultuously in order to attain by force, intimidation, or by other means outside of legal methods, any of the following objects: (1) To prevent the promulgation or execution of any law or the holding of any popular election; (2) To prevent the National Government, or any provincial or municipal government or any public officer thereof from freely exercising its or his functions, or prevent the execution of any administrative order; (3) To inflict any act of hate or revenge upon the person or property of any public officer or employee; (4) To commit, for any political or social end, any act of hate or revenge against private persons or any social class; and (5) To despoil, for any political or social end, any person, municipality or province, or the National Government, of all its property or any part thereof.” (Article 139, Revised Penal Code).

The crime of sedition is an offense of the mind. It occurs in the mind of a repressive Government and as is usually the case, it is being used as a weapon to deny, rather than to protect the people’s rights, particularly on freedom of expression. It is also being employed to justify the use of massive state resources against an individual or group who are at odds with the government’s position.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a position paper said:

The right to express one's thoughts and to communicate freely with others affirms the dignity and worth of each and every member of society, and allows each individual to of realize his or her full human potential. Thus, freedom of expression is an end in itself -- and as such, deserves society's greatest protection.

It's vital to the attainment and advancement of knowledge, and the search for the truth. The eminent 19th-century writer and civil libertarian, John Stuart Mill, contended that enlightened judgment is possible only if one considers all facts and ideas, from whatever source, and tests one's own conclusions against opposing views. Therefore, all points of view -- even those that are "bad" or socially harmful -- should be represented in society's "marketplace of ideas."

If the people are to be the masters of their fate and of their elected government, they must be well- informed and have access to all information, ideas and points of view. Mass ignorance is a breeding ground for oppression and tyranny.

The crime of sedition is no longer existing and has fallen into dissuse in many countries, such as Canada, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.

Based on a memorandum on the Malaysian Seditoon Act, prepared by Article 19 for their Global Campaign on the Freedom of Expression dated July 2003:

" International bodies and courts have made it very clear that freedom of expression and information is one of the most important human rights. In its very first session in 1946 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(I), which states:

Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.

As this resolution notes, freedom of expression is both fundamentally important in its own right and also key to the fulfilment of all other rights. It is only in societies where the free flow of information and ideas is permitted that democracy can flourish. In addition, freedom of expression is essential if violations of human rights are to be exposed and challenged.

The importance of freedom of expression in a democracy has been stressed by a number of international courts. For example, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has held:

Freedom of expression is a basic human right, vital to an individual’s personal development, his political consciousness, and participation in the conduct of public affairs in his country.

Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated:

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. ... [I]t can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.

This has repeatedly been affirmed by both the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights.

The fact that the right to freedom of expression exists to protect controversial expression as well as conventional statements is well established. For example, in a recent case the European Court of Human Rights stated:

According to the Court’s well-established case-law, freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10, it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society”.

These statements emphasise that freedom of expression is both a fundamental human right and also key to democracy, which can flourish only in societies where information and ideas flow freely. "

In the Philippines, the crime of sedition has been used against eminent nationalist leaders such as Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Aurelio Tolentino, Macario Sakay, Isabelo Delos Reyes, Amado Hernandez, and Benigno Aquino, Jr.

The time has come has to repeal this archaic provision of the law.